“If the Saint calls you, if you have an open road, then you don’t feel the fire as if it were your enemy,”
Dating back to Pagan times, the Anastenaria is a traditional ritual ritual of fire-walking celebrated in a few places in Northern Greece and in southern Bulgaria, where Greek descendants from Thrace settled in 1923. Every year the Bulgarian and Greek villages if Aghia Eleni near Serres, Langada near Thessaloniki, Kerkini near Serres, some villages on the coast of Evros River and a singular small village near the city of Drama perform this unique annual ritual.
The central figures of the tradition are Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, but all the significant days in this cycle coincide with important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar and are related to various Christian saints.
Along with the fire-walking ritual, the 3-day festival has various processions, music, dancing and an animal sacrifice. On the eve of the feasts of Saints Constantine and Helen, while trance like rhythms of beating drums sound in the background, the Anastenarides take part in dances during which they believe that they are “seized” by the saints, and enter a state of trance. During this trance, they carry the icons of saints Constantine and Helen and dance ecstatically for hours before walking barefoot across hot coals that can reach as hot as 535 degrees Celsius.
The roots of this tradition are seeped in mystery and a bit of controversy as well. The Anastenarides say that the origin of the ritual lies in a fire which took place at Kosti, near the Black Sea in the thirteenth century which set ablaze the church of Saint Constantine. As the empty church burned, the villagers claimed to hear cries coming from the flames and believed that they were the voices of the saints calling out for help. The villagers who braved the flames to rescue them were unharmed, being protected by the saints. Neither the human protectors nor the icons were burned or hurt in any way. This occurrence prompted the annual celebration which the Anastenaria holds to honor their safe delivery.
However, many scholars do not believe this to be the true origin of the Anastenaria rituals. It is largely believed that the ceremony is the survival of an ancient Thracian Dionysian ritual which was later given a superficial Christian interpretation to help receive a better reception from the Greek Orthodox church, which does not support the rituals as they are viewed as pagan. This hasn’t stopped the Anastenarides from celebrating their age old tradition.
The two major events in this cycle are two big festivals, one in January and particularly one in May, dedicated to these two saints. Each of the festivals lasts for 3 days and involves various processions, music and dancing, and an animal sacrifice. The festival culminates with a firewalking ritual, where the participants, carrying the icons of saints Constantine and Helen, dance ecstatically for hours before entering the fire and walking barefoot over the glowing-red coals, unharmed by the fire.
Each village community of Anastenarides is headed by a “group of twelve” who, on the eve of the saints’ day, May 20 Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, gather in the “konaki”, where their holy icons are placed, as well as the “signs” of the saints (semadia), and votive offerings. These are draped with large red kerchiefs (simadia), which are believed to possess the power of the icons.
On the morning of the Saints’ day, May 21, the gather at the konaki and proceed to a well to be blessed with holy water, and sacrifice animals. The rules about the nature of the beasts to be slain are precise, but differ from village to village.
In the konaki they work themselves into a trance-like state through hours of devotional dancing to the music of the Thracian lyre and drum. The main aspect of this festival is at night, when they firewalk. In the evening a fire is lit in an open space, and after dancing for some time in the konaki, the “anastenarides” go to it carrying their ikons. After dancing around it in a circle, individual anastenarides dance over the hot coals as the saint moves them.
They make a huge fire, and when it is down to extremely hot coals, some of them (only some people are “called” to do this) walk and dance on the fire. They believe that during the dance they are “seized” by the saints.
The next day, a ritualistic sacrifice of animals takes place. After lunch the Anastenarides gather again and resume their dancing. A candle is lit from one of the oil lamps in front of the icons, and is used to light a bonfire. When the wood burns, coal is spread down.
Here is a personal account of the experience:
It’s dark outside. The moon hangs in the sky and the soft smell of smoke permeates the warm air as it stings your eyes. Looking down, you notice the glow from burning coals, as hot as 535 degrees C, scattered on the ground below. The trancelike rhythm from the beating drums fills your ears as the Patron Saints Constantine and Helen are honored in the town of Agia Eleni in Northern Greece.
he whole village surrounds you and they share in your moment, as the richness of the surrounding imagery and importance of the ritual consumes the senses. You are in a sublime state of ecstasy as the glowing coals lay before you. But, will you walk across? When Saint Constantine calls you to become a firewalker – you answer – at least if you are one of the Anastenaria.
Initially the Anastenarides dance barefoot around the hot ashes, but when the saints moves them, individuals run across the burning coals. Sometimes devotees kneel down beside the fire and pound the ashes with the palms of their hands. This continues until the ashes are cool.
During the next two days, the Anastenarides proceed around the village visiting each house. On 23 May they conclude with a second dance over the fire, although this one is in private and not for tourists.
The ritual is also performed in January, during the festival of Saint Athanasius, and fire-walking is done indoors.
After a tough winter the chills have become bearable, the Hemis monastery opens its doors to enjoy festivities. The date every year changes as it is celebrated every year on the tenth day of the Lunar calendar of the Tibetan month. The dates for this festival vary from year to year. in 2017 it falls on July 3 and 4.
The festival highlight is the Dance performances and plays by masked Lamas. The masked dance represents the good prevailing over evil. The participants of the spellbinding performance are dressed in vibrant costumes and bright masks. Every mask has its own place in Tibetan and Buddhist legends. Signifying aspects of good and evil, they are designed as humble, divine faces, animals, skeletons and numerous frightful figurines. Dancers can be seen with slow dance movements and fanciful expressions.
The masked dance performance is created on music medley of sounds of drums, trumpets and cymbals. The famous Padmasambhava dance, the highlight of the dance shows the victory of the ruta demons. The dances are spellbinding as the divine is represented and its said to be purifying your soul.
Here are some video clips:
Based on Tibetan and Buddhist Legends, Hemis Festival is said to have its origins back in 8th Century. Lord Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rimpoche is believed to be the local savior who banished demons and evil spirits. The spiritual leader is said to have introduced of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan Kingdom. Combining the teachings of Buddhism and Tibetan culture, a new way was established where life was entwined with prayers, austere life and a higher calling.The birth of Guru Rimpoche also known as Lord Padmasambhava is the occasion which is celebrated during Hemis Festival. The spiritual leader is conferred as the local savior.
The mask dance performance is the main attraction of the Hemis Festival
Ever seen Lamas dance? Well here they do, in their tell tale burgundy and mustard yellow attires. The old and the young gather to partake and witness this performance, the re-telling of their ancient mythological stories and folklore. The real spectacle is provided by the masked performers wearing horns, multicolored ribbons and brocade clothes that shine in the bright July sun. And believe me, some of those masks are more expressive than us.
The Chams are a part of the Tantric tradition performed to a cacophony of indigenous musical instruments. The music starts on a slow note and quickly picks up pace as the narrative becomes intense. It keeps building up to a hair raising climax when the leader of the Black Hat dance strikes down the devils idols (made of dough) in combat victory. The message is one that been around for eternity, that good prevails over evil. Its execution through the masked dance performance is what takes your breath away.
Every 12th year known as the Tibetan Year of the Monkey, Hemis Monastery Festival takes an auspicious turn.The unfurling of the largest Thangkha (12 metres) from the second floor of the monastery for the world to see happened in 2016, and won’t happen again for another 12 years. The scripture is worth seeing as it’s so delicately preserved.
Inside the monastery and outside during the festival check out the stalls. From delightful tastes of the mountain Kingdom to unique handicrafts of the region the sight are wonderful. Residents of remote villages, adventure seekers, photographers and travelers make their way here to be a part of the festival.
Other Ways To Celebrate:
I have been enjoying the book, 365 Goddess. In this book, the author explores a different goddess every day in the context of rituals, feast days, holidays, festivals, and celebrations from around the world. Today is the celebration is the Hemis festival.
This festival includes a ritual play in which all manner of mythic creatures are poised against the Tibetan lamas, symbolizing the battle between good and evil. bells, censers, cymbals, and drums draw in positive magic, banish evil, and win the fight for goodness.
The goddesses assigned for this day are the Ratna Dakinis. In Tibet, these goddesses rule over all gestures of goodness and compassion, which naturally help improve karma. Collectively, their names mean “inestimable,” showing us the true power and value in acts of kindness that are driven by a pure heart.
The book also includes ideas for simple magical rituals and/or easy spells that are in keeping with the theme for the day. And so we find that for the Hemis festival the themes are the: banishing; victory; kindness; karma, and the color yellow.
For today, the suggestions are to wear something yellow, and also try to keep the Ratna Dakinis in mind so that your actions will be gentle and filled with kindness. You could also, using yellow ribbons, string together a collection of small bells for a Ratna Dakinis house amulet. Hold these in your hand and empower them by saying:
Let your goodness ring, let purity sing,
with each wind Ratna Dakinis’ blessing bring!
Hang these where they will catch the wind regularly, releasing the magic.
Other ideas include the following:
Do something nice for someone who’s been feeling blue lately, “just because”. Give them some yellow flowers, offer a hug, or maybe make an extra bell amulet for them too! This boosts good karma, makes both of you feel good, and invokes Ratna Dakinis’ blessings through thoughtfulness.
Note: This post was put together by Shirley Twofeathers, you may repost and share it only if you give me credit and a link back to this website. Blessed be.
Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day) is one of the important religious holidays for the Serbs. It’s annually observed on 28 June (Gregorian Calendar), or 15 June according to the Julian calendar, in use by the Serbian Orthodox Church to venerate St. Vitus. It is an important part of Serb ethnic and Serbian national identity.
Observation of this feast is connected with the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to the Serbian Orthodox tradition, the Serbian national identity was founded on the day, when the Ottoman Empire defeated Serbia in the Battle of Kosovo and slew prince Lazar. Ruling sultan of the Ottoman Empire was killed on the same day by Serbian knight Miloš Obilić.
Serbs consider Vidovdan a very important day, that is why many historic events in Serbia took place on June 28, for instance, signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), proclamation of Serbian constitution (1921), Slobodan Milošević’s deportation to the International Criminal Tribunal, etc.
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham’s chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general.
It is also a day for weather watching:
“If St. Vitus’ Day be rainy weather,
It will rain for 30 days together.”
About St Vitus:
There are no reliable facts about existence of Saint Vitus. According to Christian legend, Vitus was the son of Roman senator from Sicily. He converted to Christianity under influence of his mentor. Satin Vitus died as a martyr during the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics, similarly to Genesius of Rome. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping.
The Furry Dance, also known as The Flora (or incorrectly as the Floral Dance), takes place in Helston, Cornwall, and is one of the oldest British customs still practiced today. The Dance takes place every year on May 8 (or the Saturday before if May 8 falls on a Sunday or Monday), and is a celebration of the passing of Winter and the arrival of Spring.
The dance is very well attended every year. Winter’s gone, so everybody’s out in the streets to celebrate the new life springing up all around. It seems like the whole of Cornwall is lining the streets, all freshly decorated with colourful flowers
The four dances and a Hal-an-Tow (a mystery play), spread across the day, starting with the first dance at 7.00 am, continuing with the children’s dance at 10.00 am, then the midday dance and culminating in the evening dance at 5.00 pm. Of these, the midday dance is perhaps the best known: it was traditionally the dance of the gentry in the town, and today the men wear top hats and tails while the women dance in their finest frocks.
The Dance twists and turns its way through this ancient Cornish town and the route doesn’t change, even if that means that the Flora Dance has to traipse through people’s houses, across their gardens or straight through the shops.
The whole town is decorated with greenery, many of the people are wearing greenery outfits and the Town Band play all day long, providing music to the dancers, they have a splash of greenery in their hats too, you’ll notice this is Lily of the Valley, which is Helston’s symbolic flower. The gentlemen wear it on the left, with the flowers pointing upwards, and the ladies wear it upside down on the right.
Originally, most likely, a May Day celebration, it was moved to May 8th to commemorate the town’s patron saint, St Michael, who is said to have saved the town from what appears to be a meteorite hit in AD 495, you can still see the boulder that crashed down as it’s still visible as a wall in the Angel Yard.
Source: Cornish Festivals
Have Your Own Furry Dance:
The Furry Dance is an ancient festival that rejoices in spring’s warmth and beauty. To bring this energy into your life, it’s customary to dance with a partner. In fact, the more people you can get dancing, the more fortunate the energy! Usually this is done on the streets throughout a town as a show of regional unity, but when propriety won’t allow such a display, just dance around a room together instead. Don’t worry about the steps – just do what feels right.
- Themes: Unity; Joy; Luck
- Symbols: Flowers; Triangle
- Presiding Goddess: Tanat
In Cornwall, Tanat is the mother goddess of fertility who has given all her attention to nursing spring into its fullness. She also staunchly protects her children (nature and people) so that our spirits can come to know similar fulfillment.
Wearing something with floral or triangular motifs (guys, wear a necktie, and gals, pull out a square scarf and fold it crosswise) activates Tanat’s happiness in your life and in any region where you have the token on today. As you don the item, say:
Liberate happiness in and around,
by Tanat’s blossoming power, joy will be found!
Or if you want to use the same thing to generate unity and harmony, use this incantation:
Harmony and unity,
Tanat’s blessings come to me.
From: 365 Goddess
The Iroquois Mid-Winter Ceremony, for continuation of all life-sustaining things is a series of rituals, observed by the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, which celebrates new beginnings and serves as a spiritual new year. The ceremony does not have an official date on the calendar, but rather is determined when the first new moon arrives while both the Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations are visible, which occurs in either February or January.
- According to one calendar, this will be Feb 19 thru Feb 28, in 2018.
The major events of the Midwinter Ceremony consist of the Tobacco Invocation, the Dream Sharing Ritual, the False Face Society, the Peach Stone Game, the Bear Dance, the White Dog Sacrifice, the Great Feather Dance, The Big Heads and the Stirring of the Ashes, and a closing ceremony. These events take place over the course of ten days with no specific order, but generally begin with The Big Heads and the Stirring of the Ashes and ends with a closing ceremony.
- Big Heads and the Stirring of the Ashes
Generally, the first of the activities is the Big Heads and the Stirring of the Ashes. A group of anonymous messengers called the Big Heads visit the tribe’s longhouse. They wear ceremonial outfits made of buffalo skins and braided corn husk masks which symbolize the hunt and the harvest.
They also carry a corn mashing mallet used in the Stirring of the Ashes. In the Stirring of the Ashes, the Big Heads go from house to house stirring the ashes in fire pits of each household while they ask that the New Year brings renewal and fertility to the land. This is gesture of gratitude to “The Creator” as ashes serve as a symbol of the earth and the cycle of life.
- Tobacco Invocation
The next ritual to usually take place after the Stirring of the Ashes is the Tobacco Invocation. It consists of sprinkling tobacco in the embers remaining from the Stirring of the Ashes or outright smoking as an offering. The smoke that rises from the burning tobacco symbolically rises to the heavens to sign of giving thanks and to give messages to the Creator and other spirits.
- Dream Sharing Ritual
The Dream Sharing Ritual serves as a ritual of healing. It serves as a way to get rid of troubling thoughts and a way to make wishes come true as the Iroquois believe that dreams represent ways to resolve real life problems. Tribe members would describe their dreams in front of others so they may give their interpretation of the events that take place in the dreams.
The person who has the best interpretation has to then aid the tribe member in seeing that the issue gets resolved. For dreams that represent physical or mental ailments, they dreamer is sent to the False Face Society which is a group of medicine men.
- False Face Society
The False Face Society is a group of Iroquois medicine men who wear masks made out of wood. These people can consist of either men or women, but only the men wear the traditional masks. They are said to have the ability to scare off the evil spirits that cause illness. Those who are deemed of needing healing during the Dream Sharing Ritual are sent to these medicine men during their gathering. Healing rituals consist generally of blowing or rubbing hot ashes from a fire on those in need of curing.
- Bear Dance
The Bear Dance is another healing ritual that coincides with the False Face Society gathering. It is conducted by both men and women by lumbering and waddling like bear counter clockwise around a person that was ill.
This can be done either privately or publicly. The Iroquois believed that this dance can heal the problems of person that were placed upon them from the previous year.
- Peach Stone Game
The next event is the Peach Stone Game. This game symbolizes the Iroquois creation story where the Creator and his evil brother played a game in competition during the creation of the Earth, the renewal of the Earth like the Stirring of the Ashes, and the battle for survival of crops.
The game consists of six peach pits which are colored black (through burning for example) on one side. They are placed in a bowl and shaken while two teams take turns placing bets in the form of beans on how many black sides will face up. The teams are given an equal number of beans, and the first team to lose all of their beans loses the match. The results of this game are also used to predict the success of the coming year’s harvest.
- White Dog Sacrifice
One of the following events is the White Dog Sacrifice. Originally, this ritual consisted of killing a white dog, a symbol of purity, by strangulation as to leave no marks. The dog was then adorned in red paint, feathers, beads, wampum, and ribbons. It was placed on fire along with tobacco so that smoke may carry their, sacrifice, and prayers to the Creator.
Today, however, the act of killing a white dog is replaced by a white basket due to the animal cruelty in the original proceedings of the ritual.
- Great Feather Dance
The final event before the closing ceremonies is the Great Feather Dance. The dance is held on eight night of the nine-day festival, and serves as way to welcome the new spiritual year as well as thanking the Creator. Dancers wear traditional tribal clothing and turtle shell rattles, and dance to two singers that sit facing each other. They give thanks to all the Creator has bestowed upon them during the previous year by dancing in rhythm and shaking the rattles.
The event finally concludes with a closing ceremony where a speaker presenting an overview of the events and address of thanksgiving. New tribal council members who will lead the people until the next event are chosen and presented to the crowd. By the end of this ceremony, all members of the tribe are purified and a new year is welcomed.
Source: First Nation Rituals
The Dionysia was originally a rural festival in Eleutherae, Attica, probably celebrating the cultivation of vines. It was probably a very ancient festival, perhaps not originally associated with Dionysus. This “rural Dionysia” was held during the winter, in the month of Poseideon (the month straddling the winter solstice, Dec – Jan).
The central event was the procession (pompe), in which a symbol of the phallos, sign of fertility, was carried through the dancing and singing procession. Young girls carried baskets, others carried long loaves of bread and other offerings, also carried in the procession were jars of water and wine. The pompe ended with a sacrifice consisting of baked bread or a gruel of cereal.
After the pompe procession was completed, there were contests of dancing and singing, and choruses (led by a choregos) would perform dithyrambs. Some festivals may have included dramatic performances, possibly of the tragedies and comedies that had been produced at the City Dionysia the previous year. This was more common in the larger towns, such as Piraeus and Eleusis. Generally, it was a joyful festival, shared by all, even the slaves.
Because the various towns in Attica held their festivals on different days, it was possible for spectators to visit more than one festival per season. It was also an opportunity for Athenian citizens to travel outside the city if they did not have the opportunity to do so during the rest of the year. This also allowed travelling companies of actors to perform in more than one town during the period of the festival.
The City Dionysia. also known as the Great Dionysia, was the urban part of the festival, possibly established in the 6th century BC. This festival was held probably from the 10th to the 16th of the month Elaphebolion (the lunar month straddling the vernal equinox, Mar – Apr in the solar calendar), three months after the rural Dionysia, probably to celebrate the end of winter and the harvesting of the year’s crops.
Ways to celebrate in modern times:
Sing, dance, play games, attend or participate in a parade or comedic theater of some sorts. Create phallic-shaped cakes for consumption and sacrifice. Read The Archanians by Aristophanies, which provides a glimpse of the festival. Display images and symbols of the God. Recite Orphic Hymns, Homeric Hymns, (all to Dionysos), or even hymns of your own creation.
I celebrate the Rural Dionysia following immediately the Heliogenna lasting through January 1. I pack baskets with gifts of nuts, wine, silly games and gifts, and DVD’s of comedies. Then I deliver those baskets, not more than one a day or evening, to friends and family. I spend the evening with the basket recipient and we eat the snacks, watch the DVDs, and drink the wine.
We also play the silly games and laugh. You don’t have to give the DVDs, you could just bring over a bottle of wine and a DVD from your collection or a netflix. That’s how I celebrate it since that is pretty close (in spirit) to what the Rural Dionysia was all about. – Cara Schulz
The Ancient Hymns
- The Fumigation from Storax.
Bacchus I call, loud-sounding and divine, fanatic God, a two-fold shape is thine: Thy various names and attributes I sing, O, first-born, thrice begotten, Bacchic king: Rural, ineffable, two-form’d, obscure, two-horn’d, with ivy crown’d, euion, pure. Bull-fac’d, and martial, bearer of the vine, endu’d with counsel prudent and divine: Triennial, whom the leaves of vines adorn, of Jove and Proserpine, occultly born. Immortal dæmon, hear my suppliant voice, give me in blameless plenty to rejoice; And listen gracious to my mystic pray’r, surrounded with thy choir of nurses fair.
- A Hymn
Come, blessed Dionysius, various nam’d, bull-fac’d, begot from Thunder, Bacchus fam’d. Bassarian God, of universal might, whom swords, and blood, and sacred rage delight: In heav’n rejoicing, mad, loud-sounding God, furious inspirer, bearer of the rod: By Gods rever’d, who dwell’st with human kind, propitious come, with much-rejoicing mind.
- The Fumigation from Manna.
Liknitan Bacchus, bearer of the vine, thee I invoke to bless these rites divine: Florid and gay, of nymphs the blossom bright, and of fair Venus, Goddess of delight, ‘Tis thine mad footsteps with mad nymphs to beat, dancing thro’ groves with lightly leaping feet: From Jove’s high counsels nurst by Proserpine, and born the dread of all the pow’rs divine: Come, blessed pow’r, regard thy suppliant’s voice, propitious come, and in these rites rejoice.
- The Fumigation from Aromatics.
Bacchus Pericionius, hear my pray’r, who mad’st the house of Cadmus once thy care, With matchless force, his pillars twining round, (when burning thunders shook the solid ground, In flaming, founding torrents borne along), propt by thy grasp indissolubly strong. Come mighty Bacchus to these rites inclin’d, and bless thy suppliants with rejoicing mind.
- To Dionysus
Of ivy-tressed uproarious Dionysus I begin to sing, the splendid son of Zeus and renowned Semele. Him did the fair-tressed nymphs foster, receiving him from the king and father in their bosoms, and needfully they nurtured him in the glens of Nysê. By his father’s will he waxed strong in the fragrant cavern, being numbered among the Immortals. Anon when the Goddesses had bred him up to be the god of many a hymn, then went he wandering in the woodland glades, draped with ivy and laurel, and the nymphs followed with him where he led, and loud rang the wild woodland. Hail to thee, then, Dionysus of the clustered vine, and grant to us to come gladly again to the season of vintaging, yea, and afterwards for many a year to come.